Park Notes

Things going on in Southwest relating to our area parks.

Ski race plans Uptown ending, needs volunteers By Robyn Repya

The City of Lakes Loppet organization is revving up for the second annual urban cross-country ski race through Southwest with changes that mean it needs more

volunteers.

The race has numerous events for kids and elite skiers on Jan. 30, but the main 35-kilometer race is on Jan. 31. Organizers expect twice as many racers and fans as last year, with a dramatic new ending on the streets of Uptown.

The race starts in Theodore Wirth Park and makes its way south around Southwest's chain of lakes -- Brownie Lake in Bryn Mawr, to Cedar Lake, then to Lake Calhoun. Instead of ending at Lake Calhoun like last year, it will end in front of Calhoun Square, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S., which will serve as the race's headquarters.

Race organizers said they're sure the new finish line will boost enthusiasm for the annual event, which raises money for outdoor youth fitness activities and ski clubs.

Race vitals Loppet Chair John Munger said the race costs $90,000 to $200,000 to put on, mostly from donations and entry fees. He said the Uptown conclusion is more expensive but raises the event's profile. "It's easier to get sponsors excited about the Uptown finish," he said.

To play on the new ending, some of the prizes will be Uptown entertainment packages. However, Munger said the 35-kilometer race and tour winners would be awarded a free trip to compete in

Oslo, Norway's urban ski race, the Holmenkollmarsjen.

Munger said last year there were 750 racers in the event, but there could have been more. "We had to turn people away" because of trail capacity, he said.

Because of the race's popularity, Munger said the Loppet plans to accommodate 1,500 racers. Despite the increase, he said racers should still register before race day because it should fill up before then.

Munger said the Park Board has provided a major planning boost through a contract to groom the lakes and trails, allowing for the entire race to be done without crossing a road. He said the Park Board even sent an employee to trail grooming school to prepare for the event.

Community participation Volunteer Peggy Galvin said the Park Board has also been working with race volunteers to develop spectator amenities, such as bonfire permits.

Galvin and other race organizers have attended numerous neighborhood meetings, encouraging residents from each neighborhood to group together and plot a spot on the race course, serving as a neighborhood meeting point allowing residents to cheer on the racers collectively. "We just want this to be really fun," Galvin said.

Because of the race's heightened profile, Munger said the Loppet needs between 250 and 300 volunteers. The group currently has about 150, many of whom are Boy Scouts.

For more information on the race or to volunteer, call 715-1479 or check out www.cityoflakesloppet.com.

Park Board loses top superintendent candidates Tussle evidence of Board 'degeneration' By Scott Russell

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's top two superintendent candidates both pulled out of the search, and Park Board members say infighting is hurting the park system's national reputation and ability to recruit top-shelf leadership.

Terms Park Board Commissioners used to describe the Board itself included "messed up," "degenerated" and "laughingstock."

The Park Board is now in the awkward position of polling the remaining five finalists to ask if they want to be reconsidered -- the same candidates Park Board President Bob Fine recently called to say would not get second interviews.

In early December, the Park Board narrowed seven finalists to two: John VonDeLinde, Anoka County director of parks and recreation, and Robert Robertson, president and CEO for Denver-based National Sports Center for the Disabled.

Robertson pulled out in early December after a Star Tribune story reported a Board straw poll showing VonDeLinde had stronger support.

VonDeLinde appeared to have the job cinched, but withdrew hours before the Board vote, citing family reasons and concerns about apparent Board divisions in a follow-up Star Tribune story.

In the article, Commissioner Vivian Mason said she was not happy with the search process. She wanted to ask VonDeLinde some prevote questions -- such as whether the Lakeville resident would live in Minneapolis.

VonDeLinde told the Southwest Journal: "I was hoping there would be a more unified front on the board and it would have been a little bit more welcoming to the new candidate. That was certainly part of my decision."

Finalists include two internal candidates, Don Sigglekow, assistant superintendent of finance and administration and Norman Merrifield, assistant superintendent of recreation. (They sat at their regular Board table seats as Commissioners debated whether the two men and the other three remaining finalists should get a second look.)

The other finalists are: Dianne Hoover, director of parks and recreation for Fort Wayne, Ind.; Douglas Gaynor, director of forestry and recreation for Evanston, Ill.; and Todd Graff, director of parks and recreation for Coconino County, Ariz.

The infighting is ongoing.

Commissioner Jon Olson said Mason's comments in the press were "inappropriate" with the search process continuing.

Mason defended her comments. VonDeLinde had "great qualifications," she said, but she still had criticisms of the process and had questions for VonDeLinde. If she could ask questions in an open Board meeting, she could ask them in print, she said.

Even the decision to reinvite the five other finalists took more than an hour to reach. It passed 6-3, with Walt Dziedzic, Olson and Fine voting no.

Commissioner Marie Hauser said she wanted to include new candidates -- in addition to the five other finalists. Her proposal died without a vote.

Dziedzic made a last-ditch effort to buy the Board more search time by extending Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson's contract by one year. It failed 3-5 with Dziedzic, Olson and Carol Kummer voting yes and Fine abstaining.

Kummer suggested extending Anderson's contract by less than a year, perhaps six months. "Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a cooling-off period. I am twisting in the wind, here," she said. "I don't think time is crucial. We are kind of messed up anyway."

Some Commissioners appeared uncomfortable putting Anderson on the spot to decide on a year-long contract extension in an open Board meeting. Commissioner Annie Young said she was "bothered" by it. Commissioner Rochelle Berry Graves said Anderson had served the Board for 32 years "and I don't feel she should be made to feel obligated to spend any more time than she wants to."

The Board did approve a three-month contract extension for Anderson until March 31, but its haphazard approach may put that in jeopardy.

After the meeting, Anderson would not say whether she would accept the extension. "I will evaluate with my family what is the best decision," she said.

Leaving the meeting, Dziedzic said the one-year extension made the Board "the laughingstock of the country."

Young said the Board needs an attitude adjustment, getting away from "personality problems" and focusing on its mission.

"It is amazing to me that we have the most amazing park system in the world and we have degenerated to this point," she said.

Other Commissioners declined comment on the Board rift.

How will the Board right itself?

"I can't tell you," President Fine said. "I don't know."

Fine is expected to tell Board members which remaining finalists are still interested Wednesday, Dec. 17, after the Journal's deadline.